Shelton Historical Society: Keeping Isaac Hull’s heroics alive
Commodore Isaac Hull is not one of the best-known of American maritime heroes, even though a nearby bridge bears his name. Carolyn Ivanoff, first vice president of the Shelton Historical Society, wants to make sure Hull’s name lives on in the area’s memory.
Ivanoff, an assistant principal at Shelton High School, was the guest speaker at the Shelton Historical Society’s 50th annual meeting. The meeting took place at Huntington Congregational Church on Sunday, Jan. 27, and drew a crowd of approximately 75 members and nonmembers alike.
A self-described “maven of all things historical,” Ivanoff noted that both Commodore Hull and his uncle and adoptive father, General William Hull, both played instrumental roles in the War of 1812. The elder Hull suffered defeat to British and native American forces in a siege at Fort Detroit in Michigan, and was forced to cede the fort to the British.
In contrast, Commodore Hull earned fame and glory as commander of the U.S.S. Constitution, defeating the British ship HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. Both men hailed from Derby, which at the time also encompassed parts of what would become Shelton.
Ivanoff pointed out that after the Revolutionary War, some British forces aligned with native groups in areas west of the new nation’s boundaries, making further westward settlement difficult. At the same time, the new country had become extremely popular with settlers from Europe.
“The U.S. was the only place where people could own land,” said Ivanoff. “In Europe, in order to gain title to land you had to inherit it. So they came here and we were looking westward. Our western frontier at the time was Western Pennsylvania and Western New York.”
At the same time the British were moving aggressively to control sea trade, moves that included forcibly drafting American merchant sailors into the royal navy. The British were engaged in the Napoleonic wars with France at the time; such measures were intended to choke off French ships.
The War of 1812 was declared to battle the British over these measures. “Some historians call it the second war for American independence,” Ivanoff noted.
At the time there were just 18 American states, and the battleground for the War of 1812 extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The war was extremely unpopular with the American populace, Ivanoff noted, particularly in the New England states.
“The New England states adamantly opposed declaring war, calling it ‘Madison’s War,’” after then-President James Madison, said Ivanoff.
Gen. William Hull’s ill-fated battle in Detroit was part of a bigger strategy among the armed forces to seize Canada from the British. Instead, William Hull surrendered and was summoned back to Boston to face a court martial and death sentence — though it was subsequently commuted by Madison.
The elder Hull did have his share of noteworthy accomplishments, including the building of a road along the south shore of the Great Lakes. “After the war, this road was largely responsible for the settlement of Northwestern Ohio,” said Ivanoff.
“After the surrender of Fort Detroit, the nation was desperate for some good news of the kind if would find in a man with the same last name, William Hull’s nephew Isaac,” Ivanoff said.
In the heat of midsummer 1812 the Constitution outran — and outfoxed — a squadron of five British ships, including one, the HMS Guerriere, that would earn it the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Hull set out in pursuit of the Guerriere and ultimately engaged in a dogfight at sea with the British ship.
Hull was the victor in part because of his ship’s maneuvers and firing strategy. But upon close inspection after the battle, virtually all of the Guerriere’s cannonballs were determined to have rebounded off the Constitution’s hull — which gave the ship its permanent nickname.
One curious footnote to Isaac Hull’s career can be found in the Long Hill cemetery. While a number of his family members are buried there, Hull himself is interned at the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, where he died at the age of 69.
Robust agenda ahead
During the business portion of the meeting, Shelton Historical Society members approved by unanimous voice vote the slate of officers: Marty Coughlin, president; Ivanoff; Joyce Donnelly, secretary; and Susan Mauriello, treasurer. Approved as directors were Jamie Allan, Paula Anthony, Judith Augusta, Moe Cayer, Sharon Cayer, Cheryl Dziubina, Doug Fedorko, Linda Hooper, Renee Marsh, Deborah Oppel and Rosemary Pagliaro.
Historical Society President Marty Coughlin said the group is initiating an aggressive membership drive to counter a revenue shortfall of $6,000 in 2018. “We are also making a bigger push for business memberships and event sponsorships,” he added.
In keeping with that, the group has planned a robust agenda of events for 2019. Most months will have at least two public events, and some will offer three. Next up is a commemoration of Black History Month on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. at the Plumb Memorial Library. Coughlin himself will speak on “Perspectives on Slavery in Connecticut and Shelton.”
On March 23, singer and actress Patty Carver will perform “Patriots of Liberty,” bringing to life the work and lives of four American women: Betsy Ross, Deborah Sampson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Earhart. The society also operates an ongoing series of school programs throughout the year, as well as a weeklong history camp in August.
Coughlin also aims to restore several elements to the society’s home base: the historic Brownson House at 70 Ripton Road. These include rebuilding two porches that were on the house before it was moved to its present location. The group also wants to reclaim space at the house that is now occupied by a one-bedroom apartment.
Doing so will require finding money to make up for the rent the group now collects. However, the added space will assist the society in its work.
Sandy Nesteriak was among the original Shelton residents who founded the Shelton Historical Society in 1969 — and she was at the Jan. 27 meeting as well. “I was an officer for a few years in the beginning, so that was an exciting time,” said Nesteriak.
While her husband, Stephen, shares her passion for history, the couple’s children live in different states and do not. Her fondest memory is when the Brownson House was moved in 1971. It originally sat on the corner of Old Shelton Road and Shelton Avenue.
More information about the Shelton Historical Society, including its upcoming programs and membership applications, can be obtained at sheltonhistoricalsociety.org.